Police attacks on reporters ‘positively nightmarish’: CAJ

CBC senior correspondent Susan Ormiston, seen here in Minneapolis on Sunday night, is among the journalists targeted by police while covering #BlackLivesMatter protests in the U.S. (CBC)

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) says it’s outraged following numerous assaults and arrests of working reporters at the hands of police as they cover protests sweeping the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s police-involved death in Minneapolis on May 25.

Among those that have been targeted are CBC senior correspondent Susan Ormiston, who was shot at with rubber bullets in Minneapolis on Sunday, while Radio-Canada colleague Philippe LeBlanc had his tires slashed. 

“Some officers are purposely injuring reporters. It’s positively nightmarish; they are out of control,” said CAJ president Karyn Pugliese, in a release. “We’re not armed and we’re not dangerous, unless you believe the truth is dangerous. So, I’m begging police, please stop.”

Barbara Davidson, a Pulitzer Prize and Emmy-winning Canadian photojournalist, posted that she was pushed to the ground by LAPD after identifying herself as a journalist.

“I was hit so hard that I went flying before crashing to the ground and hitting the back of my head on a fire hydrant. Protesters picked me up, preventing me from being crushed,” tweeted Davidson.

The assaults and arrests have been numerous, brazen and widespread, including the arrest of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew, who was handcuffed by Minnesota State Patrol unit officers as the camera rolled.

Among those seriously injured while covering the protests, was photographer Linda Tirado, who has permanently lost sight in one eye after being shot in the face by Minneapolis Police with a rubber bullet.

Tirado told the CBC’s Natasha Fatah that “unfortunately a reality of American journalism is that more and more often those of us that cover civil unrest are facing the same risk as journalists that cover war zones. This injury is just one more thing to prove that and I’m not the only journalist that’s been injured or arrested or gassed or hit by the police…it’s not to say someone won’t get hurt worse tomorrow.”

“When police feel happy to arrest national news crews during a live shot as happened Thursday night when they picked up an entire CNN crew that was on-air, we know that certainly some police departments do target journalists. We saw that a lot in St. Louis during Ferguson,” Tirado told Fatah during a CBC News Network interview. “When you do something that’s going to anger people you don’t want a record of it and tactically speaking getting journalists out of the fray and out of commission is a good way to make sure that nobody sees what you’re doing to the civilian populous.”

“Journalists never want to make ourselves the centre of a story, but we’re seeing oppression of media that is unheard of in a democratic society. Every citizen is relying on media to be their eyes and ears during this crisis. Let us do our job,” said Pugliese.

The arrests continued Monday night with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker reporting credentialed journalists being taken into custody in Cincinnati, Columbus, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, among other cities. The organization is now investigating more than 100 complaints over the last few days, the same number it would ordinarily investigate over the course of a year.

The CAJ acknowledges that journalists within our own borders aren’t immune from police persecution.

At the organization’s annual awards ceremony, held virtually Saturday evening, the CAJ recognized three journalists who were either detained, removed or threatened with arrest by the RCMP while reporting on the Coastal GasLink pipeline standoff in northern B.C. in early February.

Photojournalists Amber Bracken and Jesse Winter, as well as reporter Jerome Turner, were honoured with the association’s highest honour, the Charles Bury Award, given under circumstances of exceptional merit to those who have made a significant contribution to Canadian journalism.

The CAJ says it’s continuing to monitor reports of Canadian journalists facing issues with police, regardless of what country they’re in. Incidents can be shared with admin@caj.ca.

CAJ President Karyn Pugliese was a guest on Broadcast Dialogue – The Podcast earlier this year talking about journalist arrests at Wet’suwet’en and the erosion of press freedom in Canada. Listen on your favourite podcast app or here:


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